I've Only Ever Had One Boyfriend and His Name is Pain.

I am 25 years old and I've never had a boyfriend. 

Trust me, I know what your thinking.

Just kidding. I don't.

You could be thinking a lot of things. And I'm ok with that. 

Don't get me wrong, I have gone on dates and many "coffee dates" (which in my opinion is code for: I am not brave enough to ask you on a date so I'll just ask you to get coffee instead and we will dance the awkward "do I like you or not" dance the entire time.)

SIDE NOTE TO ALL MEN OUT THERE WHO MAY BE READING THIS:

I have no idea how scary it is to ask a girl out on a date and I am sure there is probably a lot of fear of rejection that keeps you from actually doing it. I get that. But I will gladly offer you a piece of advice about us (complicated) women:

If you like or are even somewhat interested in a girl, please just take the risk and ask her out on a real date. The worst she can say is "No." The best she can say is "Yes." With that, I can almost guarantee that your chances of getting a "yes" go up exponentially if you actually ask her on a real date versus a "coffee date" or texting her an ambiguous text that says, "want to hang out?"

WOMEN DO NOT LIKE OR WANT TO DATE AMBIGUITY.

We tend to overthink everything to death so when you are not clear, it leaves our hearts and minds in an anxious, dramatic mess that constantly thinks of all worst case scenarios. And trust me, those kind of "messes" are hard to clean up. My advice: you can never be too clear with a woman. 

OK. That is all the advice I have for you, men. Moving on. ;) 

You better believe I have heard over and over again, "You really should start going on more dates... you will learn so much more about yourself!"

I am not at all discounting that because I do believe relationships tell you a lot about yourself. I am a firm believer in deep and meaningful relationships-whether in dating, friendships, family, co-workers-they have all taught me so much about my strengths and weaknesses, how to handle conflict, and communication.  

I have seen and walked many friends through heart break, dating, more heartbreak, engagements and marriage.

Guys, I've been in 9 weddings since the beginning of college. I am well on my way to "27 Dresses" before even reaching 27 years of age.

But I say that with so much joy and happiness in my heart. Because if you know me at all, then you know I absolutely love and adore my people and seeing them happy. I cherish my friendships as if they were precious gold. Plus, weddings are truly one of my favorite things on earth, so it's really a win-win situation in my book.

Post-college is where things really started to get "funky."

I would be at one of my best friend's weddings and people would come up to me and ask, "Ok but really.. how are you with all of this?! How are you really doing with being single?!" Sometimes people I BARELY EVEN KNEW.

I would stare at them blankly, as if they had just told me my cat had died. I wouldn't ever know how to respond.

"Ummmmmm am I supposed to NOT be ok?! How are YOU since you seem so concerned about ME?!"

It got me thinking about my "singleness" and all the it entails. You know what I realized?

For the last 5 years, I have had a serious boyfriend. His named is Pain.

I have always been a little weirded out when people say, "I am dating Jesus" so instead I have decided to say, "I am dating Pain and he has pointed me back to Jesus."

Because isn't that what any good and real relationship should do anyway? Point us back to Jesus and make you a better, more kind and humble version of yourself? The version of yourself that you wouldn't be able to be on your own? 

I can honestly say Pain has done that for me. I have learned more about myself through my journey with Pain than probably through anything or anyone else in my life. Because of Pain, I now have never been more sure of who I am, my strengths and my weaknesses.

Pain has taught me that life is short and often times, extremely shitty. You can't always control the hand you are dealt. But you can control how you handle it. So with that, I have learned to stop taking things for granted.

When pain started to make me a more mean, bitter, and angry version of myself, I realized quickly that version not helping this world in any way, shape or form.

So I decided to become the exact opposite. Grace, as is today, strives to daily live with intentionality, passion, humility, joy and love. Lots and lots of love. (Don't get me wrong. I have my off days... and days when you probably just shouldn't talk to me when pain is REALLY bad.)

You also better believe I pray everyday that pain wont be my forever. But right now, it is. So I am learning how to find myself and Jesus in it.  

What I have learned from Pain:

1. You are the only one in control of your heart, your reactions and your emotions.

2. A relationship, dating, or marriage cannot do or fix those things for you. They only heighten them. 

3. It's up to YOU and only you to take the time to actually sit down and learn who you are. 

Pain was never going to make me a better me if I wasn't willing to do the hard work of sitting in it, reflecting on it, letting others into it, going to counseling, and ultimately, asking Jesus to show me who He made me to be, in-spite of it.

"Dating" Pain has been just as messy and chaotic as I am sure dating a guy would be.

The tears, the emotions, the highs and the lows... it has all been there in my 5+ year long journey.

And yet, dating Pain has also been one of the most life-giving and joy-filled journeys of my life. It has truly made me a better me.

I just don't believe you need to be in a serious relationship to find out who you are. I have never thought that. I think you just need to open your eyes to the circumstances and people around you and let Jesus show you who you are through them. 

To be honest, I have always loved my singleness. 

I love my independence. I love my life. I love my people. When my married friends tell me that as much as they love their husbands, "You should soak up my single years, Grace!" You better believe I take that advice to heart.

But I am also learning that one way isn't better than the other. And I use to think it was.

Today I am single.. tomorrow I could be married. (LOL JK KIDDING DAD.) 

One isn't better than the other.. they are just different. And being content with where you are right now, in this moment, that is what makes all the difference. Accepting and loving who YOU are today... that is what makes a person's life truly come to LIFE.

HERE is the catch. I know right? There always has to be a catch.

Any relationship-whether dating, family, friends, coworkers-has the potential to show you who you are...IF you are willing to do one tiny thing:

R I S K.

That, my friends, is the golden ticket.

Vulnerability is a risk. Showing your true self is a risk. Letting others into your mess is a risk. Singleness is a risk. Dating is a risk. Marriage is a risk. Life lived well-it is all a risk.

One of the biggest things Pain has taught me is that risk is worth it. Every single time. 

Whether it's honest words spoken in love, telling someone you like them, telling someone you want to break up, having to fire a coworker, sharing your heart to others, speaking out fears, letting others into pain, asking someone to marry you, having a baby... it's all a risk. Because you don't know what awaits on the other side. Heck. You don't even know what awaits tomorrow.

But isn't that why we are on this earth?! To RISK? How utterly boring and sad would life be without the risk? 

YOU WOULDN'T BE HERE RIGHT NOW, READING THIS BLOG, IF TWO PEOPLE DIDN'T TAKE A RISK IN LOVING EACH OTHER. 

My best friend always tells me: "Grace. Guys can't read your mind. You need to tell them how you're feeling."

I will forever hold onto that advice. And not just with guys. I am learning to put it into practice with everyone. People truly cannot read our minds.

So why leave life-giving words unspoken? Why leave "I love yous" unsaid? Why not ask for help? Why not tell someone you like them? Why not risk?

It is a risk to live life. It is a risk to truly dive into knowing who you are, but my sweet friend, it is all worth it. I can promise you that. 

So whether you are reading this and are single, dating, married, divorced... let's strive to be people who are learning to risk well and live into the beauty of our season right NOW.

Because truly, tomorrow isn't promised. 

Love,

Grace 

 

 

 

Back Surgery #2 and All That It Taught Me.

I drove away from Nashville, a few weeks before my surgery, with tears streaming down my face.

The day was Saturday, March 18 and my sweet friends had just left my house after coming over to prayer with me, all of our eyes red from crying.

I climbed into my car, preparing myself for the eight-hour journey home to Michigan, with these words running through my mind:

"I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN, GOD. I JUST DON'T WANT TO WALK THROUGH ANOTHER SURGERY. WHY DO I HAVE TO DO THIS AGAIN?!"

But I knew I had no choice. 

I knew that this surgery, with this specific surgeon, was my only shot at true healing. 

I was scared of the outcome, scared I would come back to Nashville a different person and scared that everyone else would move on with life while I had to lay in bed for the next three months. 

(Which is so silly because if you knew my people in Nash... you would know they are some of the BEST.)

After surgery, it truly did feel like hell.

These last three months have been some of the hardest in my life. With pain, my heart and with God. Almost as if my five-year journey with pain was leading me up to enduring this surgery and the months that followed. 

I had already postponed my trip back to Nashville once because I realized I wasn't ready to do life at that pace again. I physically could not.

I remember God whispering to me in my decision to wait: "Don't worry. When it is time for you to go back, I will make you ready."

And alas, here I am 3 months later, sitting at an airport waiting for my flight back to Nashville.

My heart is overflowing with joy to see my people, hug (and meet) our new SAS team, and just do life again with my community.

It is overflowing with gratitude by the fact that I MADE IT. I AM HERE. I am on the other side. A moment I truly thought would never come. Like literal tears of joy streaming down my face as I write this post out. 

And you know what? I am different.

I have changed.

(And I don't just mean because I have a lot more hardware in my back or am still wearing a back brace and using a cane. All of which make for comical travel and a lot of questions asked by strangers.)

I am different because you truly cannot walk through a valley and come out the same person.

There will be a LOT of layers stripped off you weren't ever intended to carry but there will also be SO MUCH MORE added on to take their place. Beautiful things that will gracefully slip into their place, as if they were always meant to be there. Things that take up far less space but hold so much more life.

You will see the world through fresh eyes-ones that know the heavy tears that come with walking through hell and back- but also can now see the things that truly matter in life.  

LOVE.

Loving yourself and others. It will become the new mission of your heart. You will see why it is so important. And not as the cheesy mantra we so easily throw around that "LOVE HEALS ALL." But as a deeply engrained soul truth that Love truly does heal all. That cultivating deep, real and raw love begins first with you and Jesus. And then and only then can the overflow pour out onto your neighbors, your friends and your family.

I cannot tell you the number of times my neighbors, family and growing up in a small town has shown me what love truly is.

Love is your favorite tea (like actual homemade tea guys) brought over in a steaming hot mason jar almost every single night. (THANK YOU AMANDA)

Love is a fresh new bouquet of flowers accompanied by a sit down conversation in asking how you are truly doing. (THANK YOU ANNIE) 

Love is homemade meals brought to your family for WEEKS after surgery. (THANK YOU AUNT KATHY, GRANDMA, ANNIE, MAMA LANCASTER AND EVERYONE ELSE.)

Love is people stopping you in the grocery store or on a walk to say they heard about your surgery (mainly from a church bulletin your Grandma put up months ago) and said they had been praying for you ever since.

Love is your parents praying over you and reading the Bible out loud over you every night for weeks because you can't stop crying. 

And that is just touching the surface of my encounters with Love these past few months. That doesn't even recall my hospital stay and all the ways Heaven touched down through those people

I am still blown away that I somehow got to be on the receiving end of all of this.   

There is such importance in loving your neighbor AS you love yourself. Whether you believe in God or not-if we all just lived this way a little more-I truly believe it would change our neighborhoods, our states, and our nation. 

REST.

Golly Moses guys. I know people say this is "so important" but it is SO IMPORTANT. True rest is sleeping for 12 hours a night, turning off your phone, reading a book, going on a quiet walk or being still with Jesus. This kind of rest will change your life because it gives you the much needed space to reflect, syn with your heart, hear His voice and relearn what your true priorities are in life.

SLOW DOWN.

I know the world tells us to go a million miles per hour and trust me, I have been the queen of that my whole life. (My parents told me even IF I decided to stay home this entire year to heal... I would probably still somehow be climbing Mount Everest by the end. LOL)

But guys, we miss SO MUCH. We miss the blooming nature around us, the person in the checkout aisle who might need a smile, or unplanned time spent with your neighbor talking about life. Take your running shoes off and borrow my cane if you need too. I promise it will force you to slow down and in turn, experience the beauty that is constantly happening all around us.

SIGN OFF.

Sign off and look around. Seriously. Social media creates in us this crazy NEED. A need for validation, for wanting more, for wanting to be liked or "loved." You don't even realize it until you step away from your phone all together.  (If you don't believe me- read this article by Denzel Washington on how phones are changing our world..and not for the better.)

I have fallen into this trap so many times and being home let me be able to sign off and TURN OFF so much more. And guess what guys? The world didn't end. I was OK. No one actually needed me. Even a few hours a day with my phone off provided me with so much more peace and gave me the opportunity to be intentional with the people around me. 

Jessica Steddom Photography

Jessica Steddom Photography

JOY.

Learning what real joy means despite my circumstances. For me, it starts with Jesus and making more room for Him in my life. It also starts with sitting down and asking yourself, "What makes me come alive?" and making sure you do that as much as possible. 

This season for me, it was makeup. LOL. Who would have ever guessed?! I never knew really how to do makeup (or cared) until this season. I would just plaster some on my face and say, "That looks (kind of) normal." But makeup truly helped me get out of bed on the really hard days. I would turn on a YouTube tutorial (this girl is my favorite because she is hilarious and doesn't take herself so seriously) and learn a new makeup trick that took my mind off my pain for even an hour.

If you are struggling to get out of bed or having a hard time finding joy, find one thing-even if it seems silly-and do it. Every single day. Until you start to feel better.

(And also probably find a good counselor. They are God's gift to planet earth. Everyone needs one. Even if you think you don't. Then you probably definitely do. Just sayin'.)

ENDURANCE.

When you walk through any type of pain or suffering, you will learn you are stronger than you actually think. And it won't be something you see every day. It will be something that you look back upon and think, "Wow. I did it. I made it through."

The daily struggles to get out of bed, make breakfast, take a shower, take your meds, try and find joy-it might feel like 1,000 pounds pushing back against you. Every. Single. Day.

But those small moments will add up to weeks and then months until one day you realize, "OH MY GOSH. I AM DOING IT. I AM STILL DOING LIFE. PAIN HAS NOT HAD THE FINAL SAY."

VULNERABILITY. 

Pain and suffering will teach you more about vulnerability than you probably ever wanted to know. Because sometimes it will be so intense that you have no other choice but to bawl in front of your loved ones. (Or complete strangers in the check-out line at your local grocery store. That too.)  

And on some days, (AHEM Easter) when you were promised steak but instead your family serves ham, (and you HATE ham with every part of your being AND YOUR FAMILY KNOWS THAT) you may even have a complete and utter meltdown over it and have to go to your room to calm down. (Don't worry, guys. We all (somehow) made it through that day and are laughing about that it now.)

Pain will force you to open up about why this season is so hard, not just with others but yourself and with God. And that vulnerability will make you a better you.

You cannot change unless you are vulnerable enough to admit you are not ok. (Shameless plug: I even wrote a song about that.)

The beautiful part about vulnerability? Sometimes, you may have to be the one to pave the way for others around you. And when you do, vulnerability will start to change not just you, but also your loved ones.

Things will get talked about and areas will be healed they may have never come to the surface had you not gone first. It will be the most beautiful and worthwhile thing to see unfold when your healing isn't just your own anymore, but also includes the people around you. 

GRATITUDE. 

Life is a gift.

People are a gift.

The clothes on your back are a gift.

Cultivating a thankful heart will be your greatest tool to fight of entitlement and self-pity-even in the moments when your body is screaming in pain.

The world doesn't need anymore naysayers, complainers or self-centeredness. I think we are bursting at capacity with those things.

The world needs a lot more people walking around with hearts full of gratitude.

Do not take things or people for granted. Because sooner or later, they will be gone and you will be wishing you never took them or the moments you had together for granted. (I am preaching to the choir here on this one. Still trying to daily learn this myself.) 

COMPASSION. 

THIS one was a doozy to learn.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers (ya that is an actual thing), it is defined as "the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering."

Jesus never once healed a person in the Bible without compassion leading the way. Compassion left him to perform miraculous healing.

OH HOW I HAVE SPENT SO MANY YEARS NOT HAVING COMPASSION FOR MYSELF OR OTHERS. (I think this word might have to be the next tattoo on my arm. Or my face. SORRY MOM.)

But really, I had to sit still and ask Jesus for compassion to be the thing to fill my heart and overflow onto my body, one that has felt like it is constantly falling a part at the seams.

I had to ask Him for both compassion and gratitude before true healing could even begin. Why?

Because praise precedes our miracles. And compassion makes room for the outcome. 

We cannot "muster up" compassion for others. (that is called sympathy) It must come first from walking through our own suffering and healing which in turn leads us into a deeper understanding of someone else's hurt and pain.

Lastly, Life isn't about the big moments-fame, being popular or "liked" by every single person.

It is about how you choose to live the small moments because those are what add up to be your life and your legacy.  

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.” -Ghandi

(PS: Did you know Ghandi never said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world?" ME NEITHER. He actually most likely said the above. We just shortened it to that.)

Dear friend, please do not wait until a surgery, massive heart pain, losing a loved one or hitting rock bottom be the thing that forces you to take a step back and look at your life and how you are living it.

Do it NOW. Do it TODAY. 

And do it with endless grace, patience, kindness, compassion and Love leading the way. Because without those things, true healing won't ever have the open door into your life. 

Love always, 

G

 

Dear Heart

it takes courage,

to not always be ok. 

          Single Now available on iTunes and Spotify. 

          Single Now available on iTunes and Spotify. 

This past year has been one in which my heart felt constantly heavy.

Weighed down by the atrocities of this world and of myself. Tired of waiting, tired of pain, tired of smiling and telling people, “I’m doing great!” when I knew inside my heart was screaming, “NO! ACTUALLY WE ARE NOT OK!

Everyday I woke up with screaming pain being the first thing to meet me and a to-do list running through my head, one that was probably enough for an entire year, let alone one day. I would force myself out of bed when really, all I wanted to do was wrap up in my comforter, turn on my heating pad and never leave. 

Between endless doctors’ appointments, injections, meds, and unknown answers; I was fighting to have joy and quickly giving up on the hope of a solution for my pain. I felt cynical, bitter and angry.

One morning, I finally forced myself to get quiet and let my heart feel it all.

I let go of my perception of "being strong" by holding everything in and instead, I did just the opposite.

I let it all pour out. 

Tears of fear, stress, bitterness and perfection streamed down my face. Failure, people pleasing, disappointment and unmet expectations-it was all there wrapped up into my heavy, heavy heart.

One in which, I had neglected because sometimes the feeling of pain can be so overwhelming, it is easier to just numb and not deal with it.

But numbing, I have learned, will always come back to bite me in the butt.

It will seep out in anger and bitterness towards the ones I love the most. It will cause negative internal comments that are fired at others and myself.

And when that happens, I know it is time for me to get quiet, go inside and figure out what is going on.

And this, my friends, is the space in which Dear Heart was birthed.

Right in the middle of the realness and rawness that comes from wresting with yourself, the world and God.  

A place of knowing you can no longer live a certain way and are in dire need of change, without knowing exactly what that "change" is.

A place of knowing that sometimes the most courageous thing you can say is: “I am not ok. I need help.”

A place of knowing that you cannot climb up mountains until this valley, your valley, of dry bones is walked through first.

                   Jessica Steddom Photography. 

                   Jessica Steddom Photography. 

Heart work is NOT easy my friends.

But when Love, gentleness and kindness lead the way, it can birth and uncover some of the most beautiful parts about us. It can create in us a deeper love, empathy and understanding of both ourselves and then of others.

I don't think we give our hearts enough room to speak or feel. Our culture tells young boys and men to "man up" and that tears and feelings are a sign of weakness.

But I just have to wonder, then why did God give us feelings and tears? To shame us? To make us look and feel weak?

No. I think He gave them to us to be our guide in showing us more about ourselves and about His all consuming love. They are a gift, not to be embarrassed by but instead to lean into and listen to what they have to say. If we listen close enough, they will continually tell us a never ending story about what really matters to us in life. 

"Tears are tiny messengers sent from the deepest part of who we are. They whisper – here is where your heart beats strong. This is a hint as to what makes you come alive.” -Emily P. Freeman

Tears and feelings aren't weakness. They are actually our strengths. Their release gives us freedom-freedom to not be ok, freedom to feel deeply for the ones we love, freedom to be broken, freedom to heal, and the freedom to live with radiating hearts that beat with true LIFE. 

This song is by far my most favorite off this new EP. 

Because it carries the weight of my entire year-both the broken and the beautiful, the pain and the joy. It encompasses my unanswered questions and it gives myself the permission and the courage to not always be ok.

I truly hope you enjoy this song but more than anything else, please never ever be afraid to admit that you are not ok.

Be courageous.

Ask for help.

Learn to be ok with not being ok.

Let it be your guide back to the ultimate Healer.

I promise it will change your life.

Lastly, my sweet friend, whatever valley of dry bones is currently staring you down, you can move through it.

You are stronger than you think.

And when you finally reach that mountaintop, you will look around and see everything through such different eyes.

You will see radical grace and beauty in places you would have never imagined.

You will care for your heart, your body and others so gently and so lovingly because you will realize it is all a gift, not a burden or a guarantee. 

You will move from survivor to thriver, because going through hell and back will teach you what truly matters in life. It will teach you that some days are just plan hard and that is ok. Accept those days. Have grace with yourself. And know they won't last forever.

You will move forward, not with the weight of bitterness and anger, but instead with the lightness of gratitude and joy because you finally made it through.

You endured.

You let Love in.

The valley did not have the final say.

And when that happens, I will be over here dancing my butt off for you because those are the kind of things that deserve the greatest celebrations. 

Love always,

G  

I Choose To Love With All My Intelligence.

I choose to love this time for once / with all my intelligence. "Splittings"-Adrienne Rich

The last two years have taught me about what it means to truly live a heart based lifestyle. And by that I don't mean a lifestyle in which I let my emotions rule my attitude and choices. (Eh although sometimes they still do...)

I mean a life in which my heart is constantly searching and seeking to connect with Jesus at all times. To receive true Love. To let Love heal all my wounds and trauma, instead of projecting it onto people.

A life in which I am daily striving to bring all my broken pieces, tears and fears to Him and say, "Here. I trust you. Show me how to put it together again, the way You originally intended."

For so many years, I didn't choose to love with intelligence but instead with fear, shame and grief attached to it.

I had so many judgements and expectations on people that I realize now was ME-just not wanting to deal with ME.

A sweet girl asked me a few days ago:

"What's an experience you've had that you think every person would benefit from?"

Without even thinking, I said: "Pain. To truly learn how to lean into their pain. To not be afraid of it. My pain-whether physical, emotional or spiritual-was the exact thing that brought me to my knees. It showed me I wasn't loving intelligently because fear, shame, and pain were in the driver seat. I see now that there is SUCH a more freer, humbler and joyful way to live but it required me stepping into the pain WITH Jesus. And it has changed my life, forever. After 5 LONG years of chronic pain (and counting) I can finally see it as a gift. Because it brought me back to Jesus-The One who died for my pain, so I would never have to walk through it alone.

We can choose to love with intelligence. 

We don't have to love with shame, fear or pain attached to it. I truly believe the reason Jesus said we first must love God and then others as we love ourselves is because we cannot fully and deeply love someone else until we learn how to love ourselves.

Let's be people who do the hard work. Let's be a generation that is known by their LOVE. One that isn't afraid of their own hearts or pain. Because Jesus.

PS: If you do not know where to start, I would highly recommend starting with Christa Black's Heart Made Whole Book or Podcast. If you know me at all, you know these things have changed my entire life and I wouldn't be where I am today without them. They taught me Jesus never intended my life to be full of pain and He is actually the only one who can truly heal my heart. Take a chance, my friends. I promise you won't regret it.

Learning to Walk Again.

“You are the youngest back surgery patient we have ever seen. And let me get this straight, you just had your second fusion last week?!”

I wish I could say that this was the first time I have ever heard those words from a doctor or people in general. But unfortunately, it isn’t.

You know those times in life where nothing seems to make sense in the moment but then the further you get away; the more pieces of the puzzle start to fall together?

That has been my whole journey with back pain.

My five years of chronic pain have been the most trying, enduring, challenging, and messy years of my entire life. And I am only 25 years-old.

I had a dear friend tell me earlier this week, “You are wise beyond your years, sister. I am always amazed by what comes out of your mouth.”

In hearing that, I am always so humbled and reminded that it was pain that forced me to grow up quicker than I ever wanted to. Isn't it funny how something that can bring us so much grief and hell can in turn, be one of life’s greatest teachers?

You guys, I made it through my second major lower back surgery.

I would love to say it all happened with “flying colors” but that just isn’t how my body likes to do things. Of course there were many complications, tears, frustrations, and catheters. Lots and lots of damn catheters.

It’s almost like I get inside a hospital and my body just decides to freeze up and stop working all together. This is the third time I have been sent home with a catheter post hospital stay… and let me tell you guys.. I am now a pro at navigating those waters.

Definitely not the type of thing I thought I would ever be a “pro” at during my 25th year of life… ugh. But alas, such is life and learning to let go of any and all expectations of what I thought my life would look like by now.

That should really be a class taught in grade school: “Life Never Ever Goes As Planned.” (I would like to think I would get an A+ in that class by now, too.)

Despite all of that, Do you know what were absolute miracles during my week-long stay at the hospital?

My surgeon, my nurses, the staff, the cleaning crew, even the incredible cooks who made my meals from scratch and came in three times a day to ask what both me and my family wanted to eat.

Of course being on so many heavy meds, I surely don’t remember every conversation I had (OR crazy texts I sent… sorry friends and family. Those drugs truly are the real deal.) but what I do remember is how those people made me feel every single time they interacted with me.

I remember each nurse listening to me and advocating for me. I remember thinking every time they left my room, “Is this really heaven on earth?”

It felt as if God had wrapped His entire arms around this tiny surgical hospital in the warmest and most loving bear hug. I truly cannot begin to tell you all the tiny miracles that happened in the midst of one of the hardest weeks of my life… but I promise it would be an entire book’s worth.  

IMG_7174.jpg

 

I came home and wrote down as much as I could remember because I just didn’t want to miss it. I didn’t want to miss what Jesus did in the midst of horrendous pain and having to walk through a second surgery. Something I said I would never ever do again.

All I know is that if I get to heaven one day and see all those people there as angels... I wouldn’t be surprised. Unity Surgical & Medical Hospital… my entire life is owed to you. Thank you for caring so deeply about me as a person and truly giving me excellence and love in all you do.

By the way, my miracle surgeon felt so great about how everything went. He said there was a lot of inflammation and nerve compression in my back and he could see why I was in so much pain. He was honestly amazed I had made it this far with no pain meds. And I can honestly say, that is only Jesus, y’all. And sometimes a good glass of whiskey. ;)

But DO you ALSO know what felt like complete hell post-surgery?

The week I was finally able to go home.

The moment I walked through my parent’s doors after a long drive home in the dark, I lost it. I wanted to turn right back around and drive the almost two hours back to my new family I had just spent a week with.

I didn’t want to do this again. Deep down in my soul I remembered how hard it was to actually learn how to walk again and my body seemed to be saying, “NOPE. SORRY. We already did this once. Not doing it again.”

And thus began the hardest week of my five-year journey to date.

Surgery honestly felt like a breeze compared to this week. On the side of medication bottles, they say all these really intense side effects, even really strange ones that maybe only 0.1% of the population get. Somehow, I am and always have been that 0.1%. 

It was a week of nonstop nausea, complications with medications, my catheter and pain. Lots and lots of pain. I don’t think George, my new walker, really fancied me in any way, shape or form, considering the number of times I ran him into things or knocked things over because of him.

We are definitely still working on our relationship.  

Also yes I know… a 25-year-old tall girl who on normal days has a hard time being “graceful” is now required to use a walker at all times, wear knee high white ted-hose and a back brace.

Trust me when I say, we are quite the sight. Add in the catheter and we are basically competing for a spot in “America’s Next Top Model.”

I can joke about it all now but guys, this was week hard.

Every night when it was time to go to bed, I lost it. Truly lost it, just ask my parents. I would sob thinking, “But I don’t want to go to bed because that means I am going to have to wake up and do it all over again.”

The reality is I had too. I didn’t have an option.

No amount of tears or anger could take that away. And I SURELY wasn’t ready to talk to Jesus about any of it. I was like a small child, throwing a tamper-tantrum in the middle of Walmart because she doesn’t get the lollipop she thinks she deserves.

And that’s how I felt. I was angry, mad, frustrated, sad and tired of having to have a “positive attitude” about it all. I was tired of having to be away from my friends, my job, my pursuit of music and my home in Nashville. I was just plain tired of having this pain continually attached to me for five insanely long years with no given or guaranteed “end in sight.”

Here is where the good news comes in all of that. Something I can say, feel and know with so much confidence:

25-year-old Grace is not 22-year-old Grace.

During my first surgery, I felt all of those same things but never let myself feel them. I didn't know how to. I tried to be strong for me and everyone else around me and guess what guys?

It landed me back at surgery number two because I didn’t give myself the proper time to heal.

I am learning to walk again and I do not mean just in terms of my back.

I am learning to feel emotions and let them out instead of harboring them and becoming bitter and angry.

I am learning how to ask for help instead of trying to do it all on my own.

I am learning how to joyfully receive that help when it is given instead of ignoring it and thinking my way is better.

I am learning how to ask for forgiveness quickly when I say something harsh because I have once again, let my pain rule my mouth.

And I know that I am truly a child right now in terms of my physical needs.

My parents and my sister do literally everything for me… cooking, cleaning, showering me, walking me...my dear, sweet, sweet older sister, Cait, has even taken it upon herself to shave my legs…so I can feel somewhat normal again.

I am telling you guys. They go the whole 9 yards. The new running joke in our family is asking, “Whose turn is it to walk Grace?"

(PS: I know that in heaven, my sister is going to get an extra special award for the way she has so graciously loved me through this process. Right down to the very shaving of each and every of my leg hairs. THAT, y’all, is the real deal. She truly is the real deal.) 

DURING these few weeks, I KNOW I resisted Jesus. But He didn’t resist me.

He knew I wasn’t ready to talk to Him so He sent my parents to read scripture over me at night, my sister to care so tenderly for me and listen to all my fears, my friends to intercede on my behalf when I had nothing else left to say or pray, and the hospital staff to care for me like I was one of their own children.

In learning to walk again, I have learned you sometimes have to let your community do the walking for you.

I have learned it is often a joy to let others serve you. Every time I resist when someone or something is offered to me, it is like a slap in their face, a sort-of “I don’t need you.”

My dad and I have started to take daily walks around our driveway.

I use a cane in my right hand and hold his arm with my left.

(Sylvia, if you are reading this… SORRY to break the rules again and please don’t tell doctor I am not always using my walker outside….)

We take very slow, monotonous steps. One lap takes probably ten minutes and we have made it up to three.

You know what my dad has never one said? “Hurry up Grace. I have things to do.

His steadiness, his tenderness, and his consistency let me know that I can lean on him and can trust that he will get me through the entirety of the walk without falling.

But if my dad never let’s go, if in a few weeks, he doesn’t let me try it on my own.. I will never step into the full version of Grace. I will keep hanging on for dear life and never want to leave his side.

A good parent doesn’t parent their child to fully depend on them. A good parent walks with, teaches (and sometimes re-teaches.. and then re-teaches.. with lots of discipline and time-outs) and then let’s go and trusts the process.

They trust their child learned all they needed to and trust that when they fall, they will know who will be the one to reach down and gently help pull them back up.

I think this is a lot of what walking with Jesus is like. 

Sometimes He is right by our side, so present and real. We feel, see, taste and know that He is there.

And then sometimes He let’s go and says, “I am here and I will be here the whole time. You have tasted, seen and known me… but now comes the time for you to step out and be who I made you to be and trust that I have laid out the perfect path for you, even though you may not always understand. Even though it will hurt. Even though there will be pain. Trust, I am in it all.”

I believe it is why Jesus went to heaven and left the disciples on their own.

They had to “learn to walk again” without Him.

Jesus knew if He continually held their hands and stayed on earth… they would never ever want to get out of the boat. They would never ever put into practice what He taught them while He was with them.

I have often heard parents say, “once a parent always a parent.”

I can see that now in learning to walk again. My parents will always be my parents. I will always be their child… no matter how old I get. When I stumble and fall, I know I can always call on my parents and they will be there. I wouldn’t have made it through this process again without them.

Right now, it feels like I am leaning so hard on my family, friends, and community to take the first lap around the driveway.

As if I would actually crumble if they moved even an inch away.

I think Jesus knows that.

And I think He delights in the fact that He is using people to help carry me through.

But I also know in learning to walk, soon enough, it will be time for me to let go. It will be time for me to step out of the boat again, with a new back, a new perspective, and hopefully deeper spiritual roots in my ultimate Father.

I never thought, in a million years, it would take two back surgeries to finally get me to my knees in letting go and truly letting God.

And I don’t want to miss out on this process of being a child again. I don’t want to miss truly being intentional with my family and friends while I have this glorious but painful time off.

I don’t want to miss what Jesus is trying to teach me in “RESTING” because I am distracted by my “DOING.”

One of my favorite parts of being home is that every night, my dad reads out loud to me passages from the Bible while I lay down, close my eyes and just listen.

You know how this started?

It was because of those massive meltdowns I had every night before bed. The only things that seemed to calm me down was when my parents read scripture out loud and prayed over me.

Both my parents and I knew, right now in this season, I could do neither of those on my own. So without a word spoken between us, they have graciously became Jesus’ voice to me every night until I am ready to hear it again on my own.

We are currently reading through Esther. In classic Gary Theisen fashion… the “reading” is more like commentating and explaining to me and my millions of questions of "What the Hebrew word for this really means?” and "Why was that one particular Hebrew tradition so important to that specific verse?”… And I obviously remember all of the details. ;)

Isn’t that just like our Heavenly Father though?

He sings and speaks truth over us when we cannot. He teaches and nurtures us when we need it… then launches us off when we are ready again.

Learning to walk again is surely no cake walk.

Pun intended. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world right now. Truly, I wouldn’t.

I am learning to see everything through such different eyes. Eyes that are filled with more humility, kindness, intentionality and love.

Eyes that realize while pain was never His original plan for this earth, we are not entitled to live without it.

Eyes that see how when we let it, pain can truly be the greatest teacher.

Eyes that realize that life is short and because of that, forgiveness should always be quick to extend, anger should always be quick to dissipate and loving words should never ever go unspoken.

I have no idea what tomorrow holds, but I am ok with that. I have a new, deep-rooted trust that He does. And that is all that matters.

 

Back Pain Has Changed Me... For The Better.

Four years and counting.

That is how long I have been struggling with chronic and crippling back pain. Did my clueless and naïve college self ever think this would be my life now? Never in a million years. I was just telling a friend the other day, “Remember when we were freshman in college and didn’t have a care in the world and lived a relatively pain-free life?!?”

Unfortunately, those days are long gone.

To be frank, I don’t even remember what it feels like to be “pain-free” anymore. I don’t remember how to think about sitting in a car, getting up from bed, taking a shower, going to work, going to the store, or doing normal everyday activities without having the very next thought be, “How can I make this less painful for my back?”

As I write this I am laying in a hotel room in the middle of Indiana recovering from yet another invasive medical procedure for my back that left me with spinal headaches, intense pain and nausea. A procedure that confirmed I am definitely going to be needing another major back surgery... in less than a month.

I told myself after my first back surgery I would never do it again.

And yet, here we are.

Despite all of that,

I feel like I have finally made it to the point in my pain journey where I can honestly say, back pain has changed me...for the better.

This past month has been one of the hardest months of pain. I have cried the most tears and have felt the most fear, but there is one hard earned truth that I have learned through it all:

My utter desperation for Jesus has produced some of the deepest moments of intimacy with Him I have ever known.

I know I may sound crazy to you. I don’t know where you are in life with your beliefs or what scars you bear that the weight this world can so intrusively leave.

You may even be thinking, “is this girl just one of those crazy naive Jesus followers who slaps 'nice sounding Biblical theories' onto pain and suffering because she has no other way to understand it?”

Look, I get it.

I have been there. Whatever you are thinking, I am so insanely thankful you are taking the time to enter into this space with me. Don’t throw the towel in on me just yet, ok?

Before back pain I didn’t live my life “needing” Jesus.

I knew Him, but I didn’t truly know Him. I was fine on my own.

And I am pretty sure most of America feels this way.

We have everything we could ever want at our fingertips… why would we ever need a Savior when we don’t even know we are in desperate need of saving?

Be careful what you stake your life on, my beloved friends.

From experience, I will be the first to admit if your life’s foundation is self-worth, self-gratification, self-protection and “independence,” you will crumble when suffering and pain come knocking on your door.

And trust me, they will definitely come knocking.

It surely isn’t the type of gentle knock you get from an adorable girl scout who is trying to sell her precious cookies... No. It is more of a “I AM HERE TO SMASH DOWN YOUR DOOR WITH ALL MY MIGHT WHILE I SCREAM ANGRILY IN YOUR FACE kind of a knock.

But oh how gentle the Father is with His love.

Life as we know it today was never how He intended this world to be.

Pain and suffering were not His original design. There is a devil and he is so real and wants nothing more but to steal, kill and destroy our lives.

And I am so very sorry if you have ever thought or been told that “God caused death, suffering or pain to teach you a lesson.”

That just isn’t true.

You cannot equate a loving father to those things. My earthly father would never wish me to be in this much pain.

Through this journey, I have learned that God’s heart actually breaks when He sees His children in pain. That is why He sent His one and only SON to not only die on a cross, but to walk through every single type of suffering known to man before He died.

He had to.

Or else Jesus would have been an un-relatable, far off Savior. And nobody can get down with that.

So how do We find Jesus in pain and suffering?

In the Bible, there was this crazy guy named Paul who wrote about the need for rejoicing in suffering. (I told you he was crazy.)

Here is the thing though, he didn’t just say that because it sounded nice in theory. He experienced it in ways most of us will never experience.

The guy was beaten near death multiple times, shipwrecked, robbed, starved, and most likely beheaded. (It’s true. Read 2 Corinthians if you don’t believe me.)

And here I am daily thinking, “Hey guys? My back hurts.”

I mean WHAT.

Yet through all of that he comes out the other side telling people to REJOICE IN SUFFERING?! And that if we let it, suffering can produce endurance, character and HOPE?!

Um OK Paul. YOU REALLY ARE CRAZY.

But at this moment in my life, I think I can finally begin to understand WHY he took such desperate lengths to communicate that specific message to us.

(And just FYI-I have never been beaten, shipwrecked, robbed or starved.)

Suffering reminds you that you have nothing left to hold onto other than Jesus. Everything else will burn up in flames when the fire of suffering and pain come your way.

I know this because it happened to me.

Maybe you are reading this and you are in that exact place.

You have fought so hard on the battlefield of life but you have grown weary, tired and frustrated.

You have decided it is easier to just lie face down on the ground in defeat rather than try to get back up every morning and start all over.

Your soul feels crushed by the weight of depression, anxiety, pain, desperation or unanswered prayers.

My sweet friend, you have finally made it to one of the most beautiful places a human can ever be.

Truly. The fight is over and you feel like you have lost.

But I promise there is a heavenly aroma of victory headed your way.

Because here and now is when the Man with the nail-scarred hands is able to fully enter in.

The only One who can slowly and gently lift you up into His arms of endless love and strength.

The only One who is so excruciatingly familiar with suffering that He sweat actual blood before He stepped onto the cross.

And He looks at you, beloved, not with shame, anger, disappointment, failure, or bitterness. He sees you solely as beautiful, worthy, spotless and pure.

He has been patiently waiting to finally have you back in His arms, where you were always intended to belong.

And the best part?

He holds absolutely nothing against you, but instead, beckons you back with such tenderness, love and grace.

He takes what the devil intended to use to destroy your life and in turn, makes it the very thing that brings you back to His face. He promises to always bring good from suffering not through suffering. (Romans 8)

And yet, Jesus is the ultimate gentleman.

He will never ever force Himself into our lives unless we give Him our yes. He will never pick up our broken pieces unless we invite Him too.

The choice is up to us. Every single time.

When daily pain smacks me in the face, I can choose to lean into it and do whatever it takes to find Jesus in it, or I can choose to become numb, angry, bitter and stay there instead of learning to move through it with Him to the other side.

And hey-sometimes I need to feel those exact emotions to get back to Jesus. He isn’t scared of my emotions or lack of faith and I promise, He definitely isn’t scared of yours either.

So what will you choose?

One last final thought: suffering and pain cannot be fought alone.

I would have never made it this far in my journey had it not been for my family and my community fighting for me when I did not have the strength to take another step.

I have never in my life been so overwhelmed by the amount of people who have sent a kind text, songs or prayers to me when I needed it most.

Friends who have sent me food, brought over flowers, or watched movies with me, because I couldn’t get off the couch.

Sisters who have graciously lent their homes, beds, and un-interrupted attention when I needed a place to process, cry and rest my head.

Brothers who have have literally sacrificed entire days to drive me up to my appointments in Indiana because my leg pain was so severe I couldn’t do it alone.

Doctors who have gone to great lengths to get to the root of my pain.

Nurses who have cared so tenderly for me because I couldn’t take care of myself.

Hotel staff who have left gift baskets in my room and encouraging cards to put a smile on my face.

Parents who have lovingly poured out time, money, resources, sleep, prayers and strength through the entirety of my pain journey (and really, my whole life.)

My steadfast family who is a constant source of laughter, love, encouragement and chaos.

I have learned it takes a community to fight back pain. It takes a community to lean into suffering. It takes a community to run after Jesus. It takes a community to create safe spaces where you can question, cry, hurt and be angry.

And I am eternally grateful for the people that Jesus has brought into my life over the past four years who have helped me carry the weight of pain when it has been too great to carry alone.

I know that my journey with pain is far from being over. Surgery and all that it entails is a beast.

I honestly wrote this blog specifically to be a reminder to myself on the days when I am wondering how I will ever make it through. And maybe, you too have similar kind of days.

So with that, I will leave us both with some truths to speak over ourselves when we have nothing else left to say:

Beloved, YOU are not alone. YOU are braver than you think. CHOOSE the hard work of leaning into the pain and I promise, if you choose to seek His face, you will find His presence right next to you. Every. Single. Time. 

 

It's Not Your Fault.

As many of you probably know, I have dealt with chronic lower back pain for four years. I have had a lower back fusion, gone through years of physical therapy, acupuncture, dry needling, injections, different rounds of medications, counseling and yet, back pain is still my reality every. single. day.

I have been prayed over countless times for healing and when people have suggested that maybe it was tied to emotional and spiritual baggage I may have been carrying; I dove head first into counseling to deal with those issues. I have gone through intense prayer and healing sessions and whenever my pastor asks for those who need healing to come to the front to be prayed over, you better believe I am always the first out of my chair.

I do not write this to complain or say, “woe is me…look at all I have done.” No. I write this because I need you to know that I am typically a glass-half full kind of person. I am always open to what others have to say and am quick to jump at trying something new if I think it is going to help. So when I walked into church on Sunday with major resistance in my heart, I knew something was off. What I didn’t realize was that I have been carrying around a weight for far too long that wasn’t intended for me to carry.

It started with my pastor talking about all the miracles and physical healings they have seen happen lately and instantly, I felt myself shut down. Questions started to flood my mind:

“Really God? Why them and not me? What am I doing wrong? Do I just not have enough faith? Have you seen how hard I have been working to do my part in this healing process? Do you even want me healed?!”

I felt cynical, sad, and frustrated as I squirmed around in the uncomfortable folding chair, trying not to be distracted by the intense pain that was creeping into my lower back.

Later that evening when I was Facetiming one of my best friends, she asked how my back was and I just lost it. I bawled uncontrollably. I couldn’t hold the frustration in any longer. I cried until I had no more tears left. She spoke truth, love and sang over me. She just kept gently telling me, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I know this is so hard and if I could take it from you, I would do it in a heartbeat.” She didn’t try to fix it but instead just sat with me in it. She gave me something that I didn't realize I needed until that moment:

Permission to not be ok. Permission to let it fully suck and be frustrating. Permission to cry until I had no more tears left. Permission to just "be" without anyone trying to tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing to make it better.

Photo by Imogen Works

Photo by Imogen Works

The next morning, as I was sitting in my bed, I closed my eyes and the tears started to fall all over again. As I entered into my heart-space with the Lord, I realized I wasn’t actually frustrated or angry with people. I know that most of the time, people are truly just trying their best to help. And I wasn’t even mad at Jesus for not healing me.

I realized that throughout this entire journey with pain, my knee-jerk reaction to everyone’s inquisition or prayers for me has been shame. Hot, sweaty, red-faced shame.

I feel shame every time someone prays over me and nothing changes. I feel shame when people tell me to try “A, B, and C” and it doesn’t work. I feel shame sitting in the doctor’s office and they remind me that, “lower back surgery has a 20% chance that some people just won’t get better.”

And that inner shame screams, “It’s your fault. It’s your fault the pain hasn’t gone away. It’s your fault that you don’t have enough faith to make it go away. It’s your fault that a miraculous healing hasn't happened.” And this shame has weighed me down like a heavy, wet blanket for far too long.

I am crying right now as I write this because all of that is such a lie. Back pain isn’t my fault. I did nothing to make this happen. And just because physical healing hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean God loves me any less than the next person.

My sweet friend, I do not know what you are dealing with right now. Maybe it’s crippling anxiety or depression that you have had your entire life. Maybe it is a chronic illness that has never been healed. Maybe it is a heart that feels like it has been shattered into a million little pieces and it seems impossible for it to ever be whole again. 

But if there is one thing I can encourage you in, it would be this:  

Please do not believe the lie that because full healing hasn’t happened yet, it is your fault. Please do not believe that Jesus loves you any less because heaven hasn’t touched down on your circumstance in the way you thought it would. Please be kind and gentle with yourself through the process. It will be messy and hard and trying but it will also be growing and grace-filled and beautiful if you let it be.

My mentor always tells me: “Grace. You must learn to keep your heart soft and your skin tough.” I am realizing the importance of that more and more every day. The moment our hearts become numb and hard, is the moment the enemy wins. My ultimate battle is not with physical pain but instead fighting to keep my heart soft and connected to Jesus no matter the outcome. It is fighting off the shame gremlins that try to come in and tell me I am not worthy of healing, love, relationships...etc. (Shout out to Brene Brown for coining that term.)

I will continue to believe Jesus can and will fully heal me. I will continue to let people prayer over me and give me advice. But my reality, today, is that my back is not healed and there is nothing I can do to "earn" my healing.

My reality, today, is that my heart can and will stay tender to His love, His grace and His truth but I must be willing to fight for that.

And when the hot shame rises and the lies start to enter my head, I will continue to hold my people close and let them speak healing, truth and love over me when I cannot see it for myself.

"Leave A Light On."

Over the last year when we are in town, Lauren and I have had the privilege and honor to be a part of the Wednesday morning meditation circle with our survivor sisters of Thistle Farms. This circle has become a sacred place in my life. Every Wednesday morning, this circle is held and every Wednesday morning, my soul beckons me back to that space. It is a breath of fresh air midst a dark and polluted world.

Isn’t it interesting how sometimes you can go to church and not feel connected at all to people or Jesus and then you can sit with women in a room, who have gone through hell and high water, and feel closer to Jesus than you have ever felt in your life? That is how it is every week during meditation. These women have become my church and this church has no walls.

These sisters have survived and overcome addiction, prostitution, sex trafficking, homelessness, deaths, relapses-you name it and they have gone through it. I look up to each and every one of them-not because their “story” of overcoming is any greater than the next person-but because they have taught me how to grieve. They have taught me that it is ok to not be ok. It is ok to be shaking with anger over the fact that a sister or friend has relapsed. It is ok to be overcome with tears over the fact that a loved one has lost their child. And it is absolutely ok to not say anything at all because sometimes grief has no words.

But equally so, they have taught me that hope can coincide with grief. That even in the midst of absolute heart destruction, hope is standing by your side. Because hope is not an emotion. No, hope resides in the candle we light at the beginning of every meditation as a reminder to pray for the ones still out on the streets. Hope resides in the sisters who have overcome and are still standing in the circle today. Hope resides in the serenity prayer we say at each meditation-knowing we do not have to figure it all out because Jesus has our backs. And yours too. Even on the streets. Hope resides in our community coming back to the circle, week after week, to remind each other that love truly is the most powerful force for change in the world.

This chorus came to me during meditation a few months ago when a sister was talking about how we all walk through our own "gates of hell" but not one person's pain is greater than the next, that pain is the great equalizer within humanity because we all experience it at some point in our lives. I was so struck by her statement and then this chorus floated into my head:

"I'll leave a light on for you.

Arms open wide to hold all you've been through.

When your walking through gates of hell,

you come stumbling through,

I'll be waiting for you."

After months of not being able to shake these words (and with the help of Jilian Linklater) Leave A Light On is finally finished. And I dedicate it to all of my survivor sisters. The ones who have taught me how to live Love and be Love. The ones who have left the light on for me even in my mess and have taught me to do that same for others. I love you ladies with all my heart. Thank you for being my modern day heroes.

<3 Grace